Tuesday, March 25, 2014

These are a Few of My Favorite Things!

A Pretty Picture of Great Finds at
 the Opening of Headhouse Market
                        May, 2014

Lately, I find myself recommending various products, people, and places related to fair food and eating local and well.  I started a bit of a list for myself - this is also useful when folks are coming into town and ask for recommendations.  

I thought I would share some of my favorites.  I would love to hear yours as well.

For Local - and relatively local - Shopping:

The Reading Terminal Market (RTM) - This place is truly a cathedral to me.  I send every visitor I can to the Market, and I get annoyed with them if they don't follow my directive!  The history of the RTM is fascinating.  My history with it goes back to following my grandmother around on the sawdust covered floors, chickens and meats hanging, shopping, and ending up sitting at the Bassett's Ice Cream counter. Same as it ever was. Yes, it gets incredibly crowded when there are conventions and exhibitions in town.  But those of us who go weekly learn to plan our "best times' when the crowd factor goes way up.  It has been our supermarket for nearly 30 years.

Fair Foods Farmstand - The best addition to the Reading Terminal Market in a long, long time.  Where would we be without them?  Even during the cold winter months, we are always able to find some local, natural, delicious treats. Maybe most importantly, it's a fun place, with great and knowledgeable staff persons.

Green Aisle Grocery - Now at two locations!  These local brothers got it right.  Their motto:  "Know where your food comes from" pretty much says it all.  An independent family business.  Shopping there is always a treat.

Ippolitos Seafood - For the past couple of years this local seafood institution (Samuels and Sons is the restaurant/wholesale supplier) has made continuously positive additions and changes.  Leaning towards offering mostly line caught, sustainable seafood - much of it local - the staff also make some delicious take out dishes and have even added a few tables for inside dining.  And their crudo and sushi is wonderful. There are reasons that the place is always packed.

Greensgrow Farm - Our Kensington in - city Farm.  Greensgrow was one of the early standard bearers of urban farming. Along with those of us who drive in to see what's new and buy gorgeous plantings and food, Mary and the staff at Greensgrow are providing a source of good, healthy local food to a neighborhood that needed it.  Greensgrow is a Philly treasure.

Headhouse Farmers Market (Sundays 10 - 2 in season) - what a joy to go to Headhouse on Sundays!  All stands sell only their own products from produce to poultry to coffee.  You can "do dinner" from this market pretty easily.  Appetizers, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and now fresh seafood, even dessert - all are now available.  It is a happy, beautiful although very crowded place.  Get to Headhouse early!

Mancuso & Son's on Passyunk Avenue:  Lucio Mancuso makes the best homemade Ricotta and Mozzarella (daily) that you will find anywhere outside of a Tuscan hill town.  And he's been doing it for as long as anyone can remember. There are tons of other authentic italian goodies in the store as well - and the prices are very reasonable.  And now that they have installed an espresso machine, I am offered a pick me up when I stop by.  This place is an original. Another Philly treasure.

Booth's Corner Farmers Market (aka "The Sale") - Worth the trip if only for Cajun Kate's - the best New Orleans staples outside of New Orleans.  And then there's the amazing cream of crab chowder and crab cakes at Christopher's Crabcakes.  The home made pierogies & smoked kielbasi and other homemade Polish treats at Krystyna's are authentic and delicious.  You can't leave without some of the delicious and fresh PA Dutch "junk food" at the Nut Shop.  If you need a snack you will find very good pizza by the slice at Massimo's Pizza.  All of this and more combined with an inexplicable combination of non-food items make for a delicious and colorful marketplace.  A bit of a drive from Philly but always a big treat to rush home with such treasures.

Moore Brothers Wines - the originial wine shop in Delaware is a two and three times a year pilgrimage for us.  There is also a shop in Pennsauken, New Jersey, but if we are driving down to Booth's Corner we make sure a stop at Moore Brothers is part of the trip.  The knowledgeable, without being snooty, staff persons are the best; questions are, in fact, encouraged.  They represent only small, privately owned wineries and have actual relationships with the wine makers.  And their twice a year sales are fantastic.

Chic Petique/Street Tails Animal Rescue - no doggie or kitty junk food here!  High end, well sourced and worth the price if you want to feed your furries the healthiest food - like you feed yourself!  We were adopted by a number of the rescues of the wonderful Street Tails.  Lindsey and her staff persons are some of the best people I've met.

Online - we don't do much online anymore; we have even taken to ordering books through our local, individually owned bookstore.  But there are couple of online purveyors that we always keep on the llst. 

Anson Mills:  This is THE source for real Carolina Gold Rice!  The bagged rice in the supermarkets that says, "Carolina Gold" does not even come close.  If you have never had it, do yourself a favor and order a small amount from this family owned business.  This rice is an actual Heirloom, and the Anson folks brought it and the procedure for milling it back.  When it's cooking the whole house smells like butter; the flavor will make you a fan forever. 

Zingermans:  A long time favorite of mine back in the day when exotic foods products and oils weren't as easily available as they are for us now.  I still treat myself to a can of Alizari French Olive Oil occasionally.  And the gift baskets and food "subscriptions" offered by Zingermans' are a wonderful way to send gifts to your foodie friends.

And finally just some miscellanous things:

Labneh:  I really love Fage' full fat yogurt and making Labneh with it means I always have a middle eastern treat in the 'fridge to spread on a warm pita or sandwich.  So easy and so delicious.

Ian Knauer:  A "local boy makes good story here".  Formerly with Gourmet Magazine and the PBS show, "Diary of a Foodie", Ian now runs the Bucks County farm that has been in his family for generations.  His cookbook, "The Farm" is one of my favorites as is his new PBS show with the same title.  But I really love his bread recipes - basically one recipe with a few interesting techniques. He is my make your own bread guru - hands down.

Espresso in the afternoon:  It really does offer a nice pick me up and I have learned to drink it the Italian way - no lemon peels, a cube of sugar instead. 

Smoking food and experimenting with smoking food:  I am learning so much about the world of smoking with my new Bradley Smoker.  I will be writing more about my experiences for this blog very soon.

"Urban Homesteading" not being a bizarre term anymore:  I am so happy that I can be a small part of a big movement!  There's always so much to learn.

All of the great sustainablity and local food related events held in Philly each year - Farm and Food Festivals, Brewer's Plate, "How to" classes, etc.  When you see these things taking place, you really should consider attending.  

And lastly, I am always saying "Thank You" to all of the wonderful folks that I get to meet and in some cases get to know who's lives are devoted to growing, producing, and making wonderful healthy food and other products available to us.  Those folks are probably my most "favorite things". 

Desperately Seeking Spring!

Hey, It's Cold Out Here!

Seriously. I believe that I speak for myself and a whole lot of other growers, urban farmers, hobby farmers, gardeners and, I am just guessing, big scale farmers too, when I say:  "Stop it, Mother Nature!. Please!"

It is just not sitting well with me to be stuck inside, with a fire going and our space heater chugging along, a WEEK after the first day of Spring!  As growers, as gardeners/stewards of the land, urban homesteaders - our DNA has been programmed!  We need to be cleaning, bagging, planning, tending, planting, mulching, . . . , but instead we sit, waiting for the "warm up" they tell us is coming.

How many of us needed to get our early and cole crop plantings "in" by St. Pat's Day and now sit with our fingers crossed hoping that they survive this latest punch of snow, ice and frigid temperatures?  How many of us just longed for a little color and so last week put a few pansies into windowboxes and planters only to watch them get hammered by the cold?  And how many of us are watching our delicate little bulbs poking their heads through the dirt and/or our Helibores struggling to hold their heads up?

You know, in the area of the city where our homestead is located, we always joke (and are somewhat serious) about the fact that we are a "sub zone" when it comes to our planting and growing cycles.   When the catalog company says, "you are zone 6" - we know differently.  It's warmer here - it just is.  Much of that is due to the reality of tall buildings, lots of concrete, and many humans in a relatively compact area.  Along with that, our last few winters have been very mild - with hardly any snow, and pretty reasonable temperatures. Many of us believe that we were impacted so much by various garden pests during the past few growing seasons because nothing got killed off over those mild winters.  Last winter, I had little, if any, frozen ground in the gardens.  So, I guess you could say that we've been teased by warm winters only to be toughened up by this past - it is past, right? - brutal one. 

So, I sit inside.  I add more things to my Garden To Do list.  I take one more look through the pile of garden and seed catalogs - although the orders are already in and have been for awhile. I leaf through the gardening magazines that I have picked up - more in the past few weeks, I must say.  Every once in awhile I go to the back door and stare at the Cold Frame and pray that its warm enough underneath those lids - and those moving blankets occasionally piled on top.  Then I look out of the side windows and check on the covered planters where my beans, carrots, and Swiss chard are supposed to be germinating.  Filling the bird feeders finds me getting down to ground level to inspect the tips of those peeking bulbs.  This is not gardening!  This is not growing!  This is voyeurism! 

Today, the sun is shining brightly, the wind is blowing like mad and the temperature is only in the 30's. But I am told better days are coming this week. Meanwhile, I'll keep looking out the windows and looking and dreaming. Hang in there, everyone.  Spring has to come soon, doesn't it?